2016: 122.-131.  Ten Mystery Novels

So, as I find myself so, so behind in my 2016 blogging, I find I have to make a mega post that definitely includes books that were worthy of their own posts, had I not been so dilatory in my blogging. To make up for it, I’m highlighting a few that are really top-tier and not to be missed if you are a mystery fan.

The must reads:

122. The Tresspasser, Tana French

Obviously, if you are familiar with French and her Dublin Murder Squad novels, you are going to run out and buy this, but if, perchance, you have missed out on her work, now is the time to jump in.  French writes murder mysteries set in Dublin - each novel is features a different detective in the squad as a protaganist, and the next novel usually focuses on a detective discussed in the previous one.  So here, we have Antoinette Conway, the partner of Stephan Moran, who was the narrator in The Secret Place.  Cowley is the only woman on the squad, and a person of color in lily white Ireland, and she has a chip on her shoulder as big as her talent.  And maybe it’s deserved - she and Moran only get the worst cases, and someone keeps sabotaging her case files. So when they finally land a case that has some interest behind it, she’s determined that they’ll solve it.  But things get murkier and murkier and as they hit dead ends, red herrings, and interference, they begin to wonder if they’ll ever make it in the squad.

I loved this - well written as all French’s novels. and the solution to the murder is totally satisfying.  The victim is very interesting too.  Conway drives you nuts with her attituded - but it is understandable, and the pay off is worth it.  In the end it was probably my favorite French since Broken Harbor.

123.  Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Amy Stewart

Oh, I loved, loved this book! It’s the sequel to Girl Waits With Gun (which I also loved), and I think I liked this on even better.  As you can see, when I read the first I was hoping it was going to be a series, and it is and I love it!! It’s about Constance Knopp (a real person!) who was the first female police officer in New Jersey.  In this book she has been hired by the sheriff’s office, but is stymied in her efforts to get to do anything but monitor the female prisoners.  Until a prisoner escapes on her watch, and she starts to investigate on her own, and off we go…

Oh, this book is great.  Constance is a great character, and reading about her efforts to do her job while battling with being a pioneer for her gender are awesome.  And there is at least one more book coming!! Go out, start reading this series (especially if you are one of the many people who I bought book number one for Christmas… I will lend you this when you are ready!)

124. The Deadly Dowager, Edwin Greenwood

This is a reprint of a book from the 1930’s and its a nasty little delight.  It’s about a family with an ancient name and no money.  The dowager of the title decides she needs to raise some funds for her innocent grandson, and you can imagine from the title what ensues.  Shades of Kind Hearts and Coronets, for sure, but if you like classic murder mysteries, with ladies and baronets, vicars and curates, this is a pretty fun one. And, it even has a Catholic priest who is basically a good guy - which is not always the case in snobby British novels of the time.  My dear friend Nora sent me this one in a box of get well soon books, and I highly recommend seeking it out.

The Second Tier - 

125. Death Of A Cozy Writer, G. M. Mallet

I’m reasonably certain I got this from the free book table at work (find a book, leave a book!), and that it somehow made it from Washington to my mystery bookshelf.  And so one day when I was looking for an easy mystery I decided to give it a whirl.  I was dubious, because even though I like Golden Age mysteries, modern “cozies” (i.e. books that read like Golden Age mysteries, where the  murder is fluffy and so are the characters) aren’t really my speed.  In the 1930’s I like Poirot, but for modern murders I need a little truth mixed in with my puzzles.  That having been said, I found this to be pretty entertaining.  It concerns the death of a famous mystery writer, who has gotten rich off his Miss Marple-esque character.  He is a rotter, of course, and when he calls all his children (who all hate him) to the family home to watch them dance over both his imprudent new marriage and his will, mayhem ensues.  The characters are pretty classic cozy, but they are fun and the solution is both not obvious and reasonably satisfying.  If you want a quick comfort read, this isn’t bad.

126.  Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Nancy Atherton

This is as cosy as it gets. I guess this is a series in which people’s lives are influenced by an Aunty Dimity (a possibly supernatural figure?).  Here she nudges Emma, an amateur gardener who has recently dumped by her long time partner to a magical estate in England.  She gets hired to build a garden, meets a hunky property restorer, the two of them investigate some shady happenings.  It is all so, so mild - so mild that (SPOILER ALERT - there isn’t even a MURDER in this book).  I get that people might find this sort of thing comforting, but it was too treacly and simpy for me.  I’m not an Aunty Dimity girl, I guess.

127.  The Mistletoe Murder, P.D. James

You know I love me some P.D. James, so this is only second tier because it’s so so brief.  It’s a posthumous collection of four James short stories, all with a Christmas theme.  They are great fun - most are Christie pastiches, and so a little fluffier than the usual James, but I loved them. One even features Dagliesh solving a historic crime, which is just too much fun. It’s just that I read the whole book in about 30 minutes. So I say get it from the library, unless you’re a true James completeist.

P.D. James Project

128.  The Daylight Marriage, Heidi Pitlor

This thriller plays with the issue of  the“white woman in trouble” phenomenon - how much media attention and so forth appears when a middle class white lady disappears.  The woman here is Hannah, a beautiful upper class lady who just disappeared one day, leaving her husband Lovell and her two children behind.  Lovell is forced to deal with the fallout - that everyone (including the police) think he “did it,” that he must parent his two children without their mother, and that he must grapple with the fact that things were not going so well in the marriage before Hannah disappeared.  The novel handles these things very well - I can’t blame the author for the fact that Lovell’s situation stressed me out so much that it was unenjoyable to read about. If you have a stronger stomach than me than you’ll like this.

129. The Forgotten Girls, Sara Blaedel

This is a Scandanavian murder mystery, coming in the middle of a series about a detective named Louise Rick.  It is a perfectly enjoyable mystery novel - here, a body is found that can’t be identified.  The reason, it turns out, is that the woman was identified as dead twenty years before.  Rick and her partner must solve the mystery of why she was listed as dead when alive, and where she has been all this time.  A pretty intruiging idea. Unfortunately, the solution was super gross and misogynistic (to be fairl, Blaedel isn’t condoning what happened, but she’s pretty blase about it), and it turned me off the book. I’m not so into the torture porn woman in peril stuff - it’s why I don’t watch network crime shows.

130. Flowers For the Judge, Margery Allingham

Allingham is a Golden Age contemporary of Christie, Sayers and March, though she’s not my favorite (she is the only one who I haven’t read deeply). I’m just not as interested in her and her detective, Campion as I am in the others.  Partially it’s because I find her work a mixed bag.  Some of them are quite good and others are a bit silly.  This one is right in the middle - the mystery is reasonably good (a basic locked room situation), and the characters are fun in a 1930’s sort of way, but the solution is totally ridiculous no matter how you frame it.  It felt like the book book was cheating, actually.  It’ll be a while before I give Campion another try.

131. The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon

This is by the author of Promise Not To Tell, but while that is more of a thriller, this is a supernatural story.  There is a bit of a whodunnit or a what happened (a mother disappears, a daughter dies), but it becomes clear reasonably early that the solution is a ghost, not a person.  So that’s not really my bag - I prefer my murders done by people (unless the author is Stephen King).  But if you like that sort of thing, this is reasonably entertaining as those things go.  McMahon writes interesting characters, and this is no exception.

PHEW!! Only like, 15 more books before I get through this year!!


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017